Finding Balance in Business

It seems that one of the biggest challenges in this life is to find and maintain balance. Good things can be taken too far and cause problems. Work is great but if you work too much and neglect personal relationships, health, etc. It’s going to bring you down pretty quickly. One of the aspects of life that I am working to find balance is conformity. All my life I’ve questioned why we do certain things a certain way. Most of the time, I get a good answer but sometimes the only reason people can give me is, “that’s just the way it’s done”. In my opinion, that’s not a good enough answer for me. I like to know why. Because of that, I’ve found that I have tendencies to lean toward non-conformity if I don’t see a good reason to do things a certain way. However, I’ve learned that while things can always be improved, there is usually a reason that things are done a certain way.

If you’re not already familiar with the story of how Unshoes began, it wasn’t originally mean to be a business. I simply wanted to make myself a pair of sandals because I wasn’t satisfied with what was out there at the time. My wife prompted me to list them on Etsy to get some extra cash while I was unemployed. Because of this, it started in extremely humble circumstances and then grew very organically. I knew nothing about business and have learned through a lot of trial and error. There were times when I was advised by those with more experience to do things differently. Some of them had good reasons and others told me it was just the way things were done (outsourcing manufacturing overseas, for example). Some of the business advice that was given to me I implemented, and some was carefully considered and then disregarded. Some of it was good advice, but I just wasn’t ready to accept it. I love getting business advice because I fully understand that it’s not my strongest point. I’m a designer at heart.

Some advice that has been given to me several times is to dramatically increase the price of our products and target only the elite, high paying customers. They suggested that we position ourselves as the premium of the market. I realize that we’d make a better profit that way, but it goes against the core values of Unshoes. One of our big goals is to give the average person the chance to wear healthy footwear. We really do care about giving people that opportunity. We’re a family friendly company and we want families to be able to wear our sandals. The truth of the matter is that families tend to have less cash to spend on clothing. Because of that, we’ve tried to keep our costs low while producing our sandals in house (another pesky core value!). We’ve come a long way and implemented many systems that have made our process more efficient so that we can offer that. However, the truth of the matter is that if we want to continue to produce our footwear, something needed to change. We simply don’t make enough money to do it. As I thought about this, I went back to the idea of increasing prices and it just didn’t settle well with me. My task was to find a way to keep us from going out of business without making huge pricing changes.

Once I took a critical look at our business model and values, the solution became clear. We needed to standardize our sizing system. We simply have too many options to choose from. It overwhelms some customers and it certainly overwhelms us! We are using up a ton of space and inventory to keep pre-made components for all the different templates and sole/footbed options. After deliberation and much discussion here, we have decided to standardize our sizing and sole options. If customers really want or need a custom product, it is still available at a higher price. Simply go to the “Custom Sandals” link on our website. We came to this conclusion as a way to strike a balance between honoring our core values, and accepting that there is a good reason most footwear is not customized.

The goals of standardization are as follows:

  1. To prevent overwhelming the everyday buyer. We get lots of comments from confused customers and this will help those that just want to get sandals and don’t want to bother with so many options.
  2. To increase profit margins. I realize that sounds selfish and greedy. That “p” word has become a very negative thing but if we want to continue making footwear, profit is necessary to allow us all to provide for our families.
  3. To decrease our turnaround time. We’ve got our process down pretty well but if we had standard shoes in the more popular sizes and colors in stock we could have product shipped same day. Very few people are wiling to wait for a custom product to be made and shipped on demand. 
  4. Simplify returns. We’ve done a lot to try and give people the information they need to get the right fit from the beginning but the truth is that unless they can try them on, there are going to be returns. Also, some people return because they expected something different or maybe exchange for different models. Right now we have a huge pile of returns that are good for nothing. They are in new condition and up to date but we can’t seem to re-sell them because of all the custom options. It’s rare that we get two orders that match exactly. Returns are killing us slowly. Standard sizing will make the return process more painless for you and us!

Again, custom options are still available on our website. In conclusion, I want you all to know that we work tirelessly to come up with innovative ways to bring you more value with our products. We believe in our mission and while we are not perfect, we work toward improvement every single day. I appreciate all the support we’ve had from our friends and customers over the years. We’re determined to continue bringing you footwear that allows your feet to do what they are supposed to do!

Cheers,
Terral Fox

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About unshoes

Creator and designer of Unshoes minimal footwear.
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3 Responses to Finding Balance in Business

  1. Mark M says:

    Thank you for keeping the custom option. Unshoes have been an incredible blessing in my everyday life, helping me to move better, and thus live better. I fell in love with you guys because I don’t have standard sized feet. When other companies tried to get me to exchange their sandals that “really fit most people’s feet quite well” for other products on their website, there you were to save the day.

    I respect the need to keep things simpler and I gladly support your decision. I wish the different templates could still be around, but I would rather see you still in business and pay the custom fee. Thank you for your commitment to families, not just with marketing and pricing, but also by not outsourcing your manufacturing.

    Keep up the good work, and thank you for not conforming too much.

  2. Lu (Australia) says:

    I’m so glad to hear that Unshoes is planning to stick around for the long term. Wearing your sandals has made my life bearable again; without them I suffer backaches and tiredness daily just doing everyday things like grocery shopping and appointments. Prior to Unshoes my life was a misery. You guys are heroes to me. I sincerely pray that you reach financial success and personal happiness.

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